Tomogashima Islands in Wakayama




An island of abandoned military bases is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japan’s historical sites, but Tomogashima offers a perspective on Japanese history different from the usual temples and shrines.

  • Thanks to the stunning scenery, the boat ride to the island is pretty pleasurable in-and-of-itself, and rumours that Tomogashima’s landscape inspired the Studio Ghibli movie Laputa: Castle in the Sky should help you understand why it’s a big pull for campers and hikers alike.

    Technically speaking, Tomogashima is actually a collection of four islands (Okinoshima, Torajima, Jinoshima and Kamishima), but Tomogashima is usually used synonymously to mean Okinoshima. The islands have a rich history stretching back to the seventh century, and folklore has it that Torajima’s steep cliffs were used for training by the founder of the Shugendo religion.

    In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the Japanese Imperial Army took advantage of Tomogashima’s strategic location and constructed a number of military defences on Okinoshima to protect Osaka Bay from invasion by foreign vessels. The fortresses continued to be used during WWI and WWII, after which military operations were withdrawn. Tomogashima was then made part of the Setonaikai National Park and opened to public access.

    There are five abandoned gun batteries and a couple of other military ruins to explore, clustered on the western side of the island. The sites are in various states of decay, from ‘still sturdy’ to ‘this thing looks like it’s going to collapse on top of me’, but throughout the island you can see nature slowly smothering these man-made structures. It’s beautiful, somewhat eery and, well, awesome in both the traditional and modern sense of the word. The hiking trail that takes you around these sites isn’t too taxing and should take about two to three hours.

    Of all the structures on Tomogashima, the Third Battery is the largest and probably most impressive. It consists of a maze of tunnels, hidden passageways and cavernous chambers, making for great exploring. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a good-quality torch in order to make the most of it.

    Scrambling around Tomogashima’s cliffs and rocky beaches is another great way to spend your time, and the scenic views make for perfect picnic spots. Speaking of which, be sure to pack snacks and drinks in your bag as the facilities on the island are quite limited. If you’ve seen all the west side has to offer, you could head eastwards towards Shinjaike lake to catch a glimpse of the wild deer and peacocks that inhabit the island.

    Most visitors make Tomogashima a day-trip, but if you have time an overnight stay is definitely recommended for star-gazing under the spectacular night skies. There are two free (always a plus) campsites on the island with basic water and toilet facilities – just contact the Information Center to let them know you’re staying. Alternatively, there are two guest houses and one hotel, with prices ranging from 1,000 to 9,000 yen per night.

    Access: Ferry from Kada Port, a twenty-minute walk from Kada station on the Kada Nankai railway line.

    Ferry Timetable: Timetable is subject to change, so consult the website for details (Japanese only). Advanced reservations are not possible

    Summer (March 1 – November 30): Ferries depart four times a days to and from Okinoshima, with two additional services during April 28 – May 6 and July 20 – August 20. No ferries on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, except during high tourist season (April 28 – May 6 and July 20 – August 31) and on public holidays.

    Winter (December 1 – February 28): Ferries run twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays only. There are no departures during the New Year’s holiday (December 29 – January 3).

    Cost: Return tickets 2,000 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for children, including one piece of luggage up to 30kg per person. Additional luggage and bicycles can be brought for a moderate fee.